Vol. 1, No. 28, July 26, 1999
© Copyright 1999 by Robin Garr. All rights reserved.
Why is German wine such a hard sell?
I like German wine, and I like touring the German wine country. The Rhine and, especially, the Mosel and its tributaries the Ruwer and the Saar, may be among the world's most scenic wine regions.
But like just about every other wine lover I know, I may drink one bottle of German wine for every 50 times I open a dry table wine in the French-Italian tradition that seems to dominate the world of wine.
Why is German wine such a hard sell?
I think several factors are involved. German wine labels are often old-fashioned, as the images in our HTML edition suggest. While some might consider this an actual advantage, in today's marketing environment, many consumers read "old" as "dull." Perhaps more important, German wine labels seem complicated to those who haven't taken the time to learn their mysteries. Labels usually include the name of the village and the name of the vineyard -- "Bernkasteler Badstube" is from the Badstube vineyard in the Mosel town of Bernkastel, while "Ayler Kupp" is from the Kupp vineyard in the village of Ayl on the Saar. The grape is listed - Riesling, of course - as, for the top-quality German wines, is a term indicating the degree of ripeness of the grapes, from Kabinett, the lowest and usually the dryest, through Spätlese and Auslese and on to the ultra-sweet dessert-style wines.
Finally, though, I think the underlying issue is simply one of style. German wines are usually light, low in alcohol and slightly sweet, with their sweetness held in check by racy acidity, creating a beverage with the zippy freshness of fruit juice and not the cloying sweetness of a soft drink. While you'd think this would make them a perfect product for modern tastes, it seems that they are just so different from what most of us expect in a wine that we find them hard to get used to.
But who knows? Rhine and Mosel wines might come around again. After all, they were immensely popular in 19th Century Britain, and even Queen Victoria was said to be a great fan of "Hock," as they called the great Rhine wine from the village of Hochheim.
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Two fine Mosel Rieslings
Very light gold, typically light in color for a Mosel. Musky, pleasantly pungent "conifer" aromas and green apples. Sweet and tart in flavor, apple juice on a structure of steel. Sweet at first tasting, it dries out in the mouth to finish with a citric tang. At only 8 percent alcohol, it's light, crisp and refreshing. U.S. importer: Valckenberg International Inc., Tulsa, Okla. (July 25, 1999)
FOOD MATCH: A light summer dinner of a "hye roller," cracker bread rolled around smoked salmon and dill cream cheese, makes a surprisingly good match; the wine's zingy acidity marries beautifully with the salmon, and its herbal notes seem to bring up the fresh flavor of the dill.
Weingut Peter Lauer 1993 Ayler Kupp (Mosel-Saar-Ruwer) Riesling Kabinett ($12.99)
FOOD MATCH: Washes down the salmon-cream-cheese snack well enough, but this drier and even more acidic wine doesn't make quite the perfect match that the first wine did.
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